Ministers of state and justice from the Group of Eight (G8) nations brought the issue of identification crime to an annual summit for the first time today.

Recognising the growing sophistication of criminals and the increasing importance of identity documents in our ever-more digital lives the ministers discussed the issue for a little over an hour at the summit in Tokyo.

"It's a global issue that requires a global response," said Haruhiko Ukawa, director of the Japanese Ministry of Justice office responsible for the summit.

Identity crimes were selected as one of the key themes of the summit because despite a widespread acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problem the level of understanding among G8 ministers and countries is very different, he said. And without a better understanding of the issues involved it will be difficult for countries to assess what needs to be done.

"As a starting point for the discussion the importance of the crime and key issues have been shared and understood," said Ukawa.

Even among nations that have a relatively good knowledge of the problem there are still plenty of gaps in understanding of the issue and its effects. Statistics are lacking on the impact of ID theft in many areas although ministers heard Thursday from Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, that some estimates say ID crime cost the US $50bn last year and Europe $100bn.

Speaking to visiting ministers, Japan's Minister of Justice Kunio Hatoyama noted that ID crime is not just economic and when it involves documents like passports has an impact on national security. He talked about the benefits of biometric border controls. Last year Japan became the second nation after the US to begin fingerprinting all visitors on arrival at its major ports of entry.

ID crime is high on the list of the Roma/Lyon Group, a G8 group that meets three times a year to talk and tackle issues related to international terrorism and crime. At Thursday's meeting ministers endorsed the group's work in the area and underlined the need to gather more information on ID crime.

The meeting is due to conclude on Friday and ID crimes are expected to feature prominently in a communique to be issued.